How this American man proposed to his Welsh girl - in Japan
- Welsh spouse
- Japan / US / Wales
OK confession-time, I didn’t know THAT much about Wales when I met her.
My English grandmother was a GI bride in the war and all I knew about Wales really was that it ‘looks like the face of a pig’ on the map of the UK. Turns out this reference would not impress her – nor would the fact that I kept mispronouncing her name and referring to Wales as being ‘England’.
In fact, when we first met at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo, I assumed she was ‘British, blonde and uppity’. She was also conversing very loudly and animatedly with another loud Irishman (who later became a firm friend of us both). This was at the time just too much for my introverted Mid-Western ways! When we later found ourselves on a Japanese course together, I found myself outnumbered completely by Brits and Canadians – and quite taken with the girl who ‘talked funny’. Half of our conversations consisted of me asking her to repeat herself or talk slower.
Eventually we’d move in together in our third year. But this being conservative Japan, we had to tell our bureaucratic boards of education that we were ‘engaged to be married’, though at the time we actually weren’t. Living together was a way of testing the relationship to see if it had legs. If we knew we wanted to take our commitment even further by moving to one of our home countries together, we’d know for sure after living together for a year. But as we discovered, it wouldn’t be easy to just rock up in the UK as an American man. Neither one of us could move to the others’ country without a tourist / student visa. So much for the US-UK ‘special relationship’.
We joked to one another that ‘maybe we should get married’, had a laugh and left it at that. Except I didn’t forget about it. I was going to ask her to marry me.
With no budget at that time for a ring, I decided to paint her a wooden plaque in Japanese calligraphy that said ‘Kekkon shi-te kudasai’ (Marry me, please). But I knew her Welsh roots were really important to her. I knew by then that Welsh language was a big part of her identity and upbringing. I thought it would be romantic to ask her to marry me in Welsh. But she was the only Welsh speaker in our entire prefecture. I had no one to ask and couldn’t find any information on who to call in Wales to ask them to coach me with this one line that could make or break the proposal.
During a previous trip to Wales, we’d travelled extensively around North Wales and she had delighted in listening to and conversing in Welsh with the locals after 18 months away from home. So in January 2007, I thought I’d call a respectable organisation in North Wales who I could trust to help me with this particular proposal pickle I was in.
Don’t ask me how, but I came across a number for a local police station in North Wales and called the (non-emergency) number… When they picked up the phone, my stomach dropped.
“Hi…I’m calling from Japan and I have a very strange problem I wonder if you can help me with…”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. I hoped they wouldn’t put the phone down.
“I need to ask my girlfriend to marry me in Welsh – could you help me pronounce it…?”
I imagined the laugh they’d have about it afterwards as they recounted the tale of the lovesick American weirdo on the phone. Unbelievably and to their credit, the lady on the other end of the phone recognised a man in need. She laughed, then coached me how to say ‘Wneud di fy mhriodi fi?’. It was a bit of a tongue twister for me. I thanked her and rehearsed it over and over ‘til I plucked up the courage to say it.
We lived near the coastline in Hamada, Southern Shimane Prefecture. It was a wild and windy day and she was grumbling about the cold. But I got down on one knee, presented her with my humble plaque and ventured hopefully “Nei-dee vthe-prio-thdi-vee”. She seemed to understand what was going on and said yes! We had a Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony and took our wedding pics in a Buddhist temple afterwards. We also had to translate our wedding certificates, file paperwork and plead an oath in the British and American Embassies in Osaka.
We held a surprise wedding reception in our hometown for friends (who didn’t realise we were getting married) and sang karaoke in the middle of a humid typhoon.
After completing our teaching contracts in Japan, we flew back to the Mid-West and had a sweltering wedding celebration on our family farm. We had bales of hay, bathtubs of beer, clay pigeon shooting (well, it is the States) and a Dixieland jazz band. After that, we flew to Wales and had a wedding celebration in ‘Clwb y Bont’, Pontypridd with a Welsh choir, a local rock band and lots of strong Brains Beer. I can’t remember much of that night.
I’ve lived in Wales for eleven years now and feel more Welsh than American these days. Since moving here, I joined a Welsh choir, learned elementary Welsh in night classes, completed the Welsh three peaks challenge, become an avid rugby fan and swum in the freezing Welsh sea on New Year’s Day….and all this because the nice lady in that police station in North Wales helped a young American romantic in need.
Diolch yn fawr, Heddlu Gogledd Cymru! (Thank you, North Wales Police!)
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